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Put volume has accelerated on AOL, Inc. (NYSE:AOL - 30.24) today, with traders placing bets the stock will stumble in the near term. Around 2,300 puts have crossed the tape, more than doubling the average intraday volume. By comparison, fewer than 800 calls have changed hands.
The most active strike so far is AOL's March 28 put, which has seen roughly 1,650 contracts trade. Nearly all of these have gone off at the ask price, implied volatility has ticked 2.3 percentage points higher, and volume is easily outstripping open interest, hinting at the initiation of new positions.
By buying these out-of-the-money puts to open for a volume-weighted average price of $0.63, traders expect AOL to land below the $27.37 mark (strike price minus premium paid) by the close on Friday, Mar. 15, when back-month options expire. This breakeven level is a 9.5% slide from AOL's current price.
Today's bearishly skewed bias isn't anything new for option players. The stock's Schaeffer's put/call open interest ratio (SOIR) of 1.03 ranks in the 81st percentile of its annual range, indicating speculators are more put-heavy than usual among options expiring in three months or less. This penchant for puts has translated into a front-month gamma-weighted SOIR of 1.15, which shows near-the-money put open interest outweighs call open interest in the February-dated series of options. In the short term, AOL could find an options-related foothold as these bets are unwound over the next two weeks.
The pessimism surrounding AOL is puzzling, given the stock is sporting a year-over-year advance of more than 85%. Additionally, the equity's 10- and 20-day moving averages recently formed a bullish cross, suggesting a layer of technical support has formed.
It could be that put players are expecting AOL to unveil a disappointing earnings report, as the Internet issue is scheduled to announce its quarterly results ahead of the opening bell on Friday, Feb. 8. However, the company has bested analysts' bottom-line expectations in each of the last four quarters, and all of the reports have been followed by a move to the upside by the equity. For AOL's fourth quarter, Wall Street is calling for a profit of 41 cents per share.